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Yakima Plan gathering momentum

by Nicky Pasi

On November 19th, the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources unanimously passed Senator Cantwell’s Senate Bill 1694 which, if signed into law, will authorize federal involvement in implementing the first ten years of the Yakima Plan.  The next step in this process?  A companion bill in the U.S. House of Representatives.  U.S. Representatives Dan Newhouse (WA-04) and Dave Reichert (WA-08), who have long supported the Yakima Plan, hope to introduce such legislation before the end of the year.


Representative Newhouse meets with the YBIP Workgroup Executive Committee (photo credit: Tim Hill, Dept. of Ecology)

Yesterday (November 24th), in a roundtable press event in Yakima, Representative Newhouse met with members of the Yakima Plan Workgroup’s Executive Committee to discuss the collaborative process that brought them all to this point, and the Plan’s importance as a model of integrated water and ecosystem management.  With  discussion of west-wide droughts echoing around DC, Rep. Newhouse applauded the committee members for getting a head start on bringing forward a workable solution.

“On the eve of introducing our legislation in the House,” Rep. Newhouse said, “This is an important meeting for us to hear final comments or continuing comments about where we are, where we need to be, and some of the challenges we still face.” (more…)


Yakima: A lesson on forward thinking

By Phaedra BoothTU_IMG_0486_low res

Today, the Yakima River Basin took one more step toward a bright future after a summer
of devastating drought as a bill to protect and enhance fisheries and the ecosystem passed through the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The passage of S. 1694 – known as The Yakima River Basin Water Enhancement Project Phase III Act of 2015 — through committee represents a milestone for this legislation. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and co-sponsored by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). Proponents of the legislation anticipate that a companion bill will soon be introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

With the rise of global commerce we often feel a pinch in our wallets or, for agriculture, on our farms. The impacts of climate warming affect everything in our lives. From how we do business, to how we water our lawns, to how we recreate, climate change impacts are constant.
TU_IMG_0302_low resNowhere are the effects more pronounced and intimidating than Washington’s Yakima River basin—home to a $4.5 billion dollar annual agricultural economy here in Washington.

“This year we’ve seen amazing partnerships and cooperation forming around water use in the Yakima Basin,” said Lisa Pelly, Director of the Washington Water Project of Trout Unlimited. “By working together, we’ve kept farmers afloat and helped enhance water in the rivers for fish and wildlife. This legislation will guarantee that kind of innovative management in the future, and we are truly grateful to Senator Cantwell and Senator Murray for their visionary support.”

The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan will increase the sustainability and resilience of our Yakima River Basin, particularly in the face of climate change. The plan itself provides for improved water infrastructure and storage, water conservation and ecosystem restoration, and construction of fish passage at two dams, which will restore historic Chinook, Coho, Steelhead, and Bull trout runs blocked by dams for more than a century.

Washington Senator Maria Cantwell says the plan, “is a national model for integrated water storage that will also help one of the most productive agricultural and salmon-spawning areas in our state deal with the devastating impacts of water shortages.”

Thanks to Senator Cantwell’s leadership as the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee and Senator Murray, the Yakima Basin and Washington state can successfully address long-standing water supply challenges and environmental needs, by providing a more reliable and sustainable supply of water to meet agricultural, municipal and environmental needs.

For more information, listen to the stories of people whose lives are impacted by the Yakima Plan at


A short film about a big plan

by Nicky Pasi, American Rivers

Over the summer, the Yakima Basin Conservation Campaign launched, a site that tells the

stories of those of us who live, work, play and rely on the Yakima Basin’s waters. With the expertise of Guenther Creative, we’ve translated those stories into a film, “This River Runs Forever”, featuring Yakima Basin producers, irrigators, members of the Yakama Nation, environmental groups, anglers, Seattle chefs and West-side breweries, interweaving them just as their needs for water are connected.
But every good movie deserves premiere screenings, and so we’ve been hard at work arranging film events on both sides of the Cascades. On September 21, members of F.O.R.K.S. (Fields Oceans Ranches Kitchens Stewards) enjoyed a viewing at the Atrium at Pike Place Market, followed by a luncheon dished up by Orfeo, chased by beer from Fremont Brewing and wine from Sous Sol.  Each of these west-side purveyors of food and drink sources their produce, hops or grapes from Yakima Valley producers like Alvarez Organic Farms and Alder Ridge Vineyards, a relationship that wasn’t lost on F.O.R.K.S. organizers or attendees.  On hand for Q&A were Integrated Plan supporters–and stars of the film–Michael Garrity (American Rivers), Kitty Craig (The Wilderness Society) and Urban Eberhart (Kittitas Reclamation District),

Within the Yakima Basin itself, folks who rely directly on clean, reliable water turned out for a viewing at Iron Horse Brewery on October 20. Locals from Ellensburg, Roslyn, Cle Elum and Kittitas, as well as students from nearby Central Washington University, enjoyed $3 pints brewed from local hops as they soaked up details about the Integrated Plan and called out questions to YBIP representatives.  After the movie, representatives from American Rivers and Trout Unlimited circulated to answer questions one-on-one for those too shy (or behind on their discount pints) to stand up before the crowd.  Also on hand to talk about agriculture, irrigation and partnerships with the environmental and tribal communities were local farmers Ric Valicoff of Valicoff Family Farms and Michael Roy of Roy Farms.

The Yakima Basin produces 70% of the world’s hops, 40% of Washington’s wine grapes, is first in the nation in apple orchards and first in the state in tree fruits, berries and nuts. Overall the region contributes more than $4.5 billion of agricultural output and farm jobs to Washington’s annual economy, along with $375 million in culinary and environmental tourism. Residents and visitors alike value the area for its more than 400 trails and 200 miles of streams and rivers. “This River Runs Forever” acknowledges these often-conflicting demands on the one thing that makes all these outcomes possible: water. Just as the projects supported by the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan reflect the many uses for water, the film presents a holistic approach to sustaining this resource into the future.

Plans are currently in the works to bring “This River Runs Forever” to Yakima, and back across the mountains for a Seattle encore.  If you or your organization would like to host a film event, please contact, or visit for a personal screening now!


First reservoir fish passage in the Yakima Basin breaks ground

Members of the Yakama Nation look out over Cle Elum Lake, at its lowest drawdown point this year

by Nicky Pasi, American Rivers

More than a century ago, Yakima River Basin salmon runs ranged between 300,000 to one million fish.  Sockeye, coho, and spring, summer and fall chinook could be found in its waters, alongside steelhead, cutthroat, rainbow and bull trout.  The prominence of salmonids changed abruptly after 1905, when the Bureau of Reclamation began construction on the Yakima Project, five reservoirs that currently irrigate 464,000 acres of farmland. While this system has given rise to a $4.5 billion annual agricultural economy that produces 70% of the nation’s hops and millions of pounds of apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries and wine grapes, none of the dams included fish passage facilities.  Without access to spawning grounds and key habitat above the reservoirs, salmon populations quickly declined.  Within a few short generations, coho and sockeye salmon had been completely extirpated from the system.

On August 27, 2015, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, along with their partner agencies from the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan and representatives from state and federal legislators, ceremonially broke ground on the fish passage at Cle Elum Dam.  Tribal leaders spoke in appreciation of the guidance, wisdom and perseverance of past leaders who were no longer present to witness the outcome of their efforts. “They saw the need to build partnerships,” said Phil Rigdon, DNR Deputy Director at the Yakama Nation and Master of Ceremonies for the event, “They knew we needed each other to achieve our goals.”

Phil Rigdon, DNR Deputy Director at the Yakama Nation, addresses the assembly

The Yakama Nation has been working to return sockeye to Cle Elum Lake and the miles of pristine salmon habitat above it since 2009.  One thousand adult sockeye were transplanted from the Wenatchee and Okanogan river basins that summer, followed by increasingly large numbers every successive year.  They flourished and successfully spawned, with juveniles exiting the lake via a temporary flume installed at the dam’s spillway.  80,000 outmigrants were noted at Prosser dam in 2011, 701 of which returned to the Yakima Basin in 2013.  In 2014, 4000 fish were introduced and 4,500 returned, achieving replacement rate.  Biologist projections show that the Yakima Basin has the potential to be one of the largest salmon runs in the lower 48 states if recovery continues. (more…)


A good year to roll out Yakima Basin residential drought plan

by Joye Redfield-Wilder, WA Department of Ecology, Central Regional Communications Manager

Record low flows in Teanaway River, tributary to the Yakima River

Water conservation can make a difference in our communities. Seattle is a national model for water efficiency, despite its rainy climes, and uses the same amount of water yearly that it did in the 1970s.

We know outside irrigation is the largest “consumer” of water in the United States. In the Yakima Valley and across Washington investments to change irrigation practices from flooding a field to sprinklers and drip are a great success.

Sadly, those efforts haven’t been enough. Why? It hasn’t rained in Seattle and the rivers aren’t running high anywhere. Mother Nature didn’t deliver a 10-foot pile of snow to slowly melt like in a typical year. We’re experiencing NOW what could be the new norm 40 years from now.

Record low flows in Teanaway River, tributary to the Yakima River

Large urban areas and farmers have been paying attention and measuring both the environmental and economic costs of droughts. And planning ahead. Now it’s time for the rest of us to consider what we can do and why.

I live in the Yakima Valley, where my grandfather homesteaded on property near White Swan, grew potatoes, sold cream from his dairy cows and raised a large family. Water is the lifeblood of this fertile valley. Our families know acutely when the well runs dry and the pump goes out and the irrigation ditch is unfilled.

Water conservation is a crucial part of how we should address drought. It’s an important component of the Yakima River Basin integrated water management plan that looks to respond to current and future water short years. A fully implemented plan calls for everyone – not just farmers – to cut their water use to 70 percent of normal in a drought. This year, many farmers are getting only 46 percent of normal.

Efficient use of municipal and domestic water throughout the Yakima Basin can make a difference and is spelled out in the plan, using voluntary, incentive-based actions that focus on landscape irrigation and other consumptive uses.

Imagine if each of us decided to lop 30 percent off our summer water bills.

I know many pay a flat fee for their irrigation whether they use it or not. Others draw from private domestic wells. Still, imagine what using 30 percent less water would look like.

What better year than this for us to start examining how residential, commercial, public entities – cities, parks, schools – can improve how water is used and better yet NOT waste water in the first place.

Benton Conservation District Native Plant Garden

Would it mean watering every other day instead of watering for 20 minutes a station EVERYDAY? This year in Kennewick, residents can only water twice a week at 20 minutes per station.

The savings could protect a declining aquifer and your domestic well and mean better water supplies for next year. Predictions are for another dire year. Let’s plan ahead.

How about for school boards and park managers? Can we examine how frequently school yards and ball fields are watered and consult with conservation districts and Washington State University to land on optimum watering schedules that protect kids, but also not waste water? Could it be as simple as changing our watering schedule and sprinkler programs?

How many of us have walked across a soggy field or seen sprinklers watering the sidewalk? How many of us are ‘keeping up with the Jones’ in our yards? I know I’m guilty.

Consider making yours a heritage garden of low-water and native plants that will add beauty and help to respond to drought now and in the future.

This can be a positive experience and not a rude wake-up call. Y’all let’s get on board! Learn more at EPA WaterSense.

Other resources:
Some Washington Irrigation Facts from WSU
Ecology’s water conservation page
Read this article at the WA Department of Ecology’s Water Blog series

Fish. Families. Farms.
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